The language of power
Wemphasisheputonlearning—madeno effort to teach me any of his languages. He didn’t see the value in my learning another tongue, even though I could see that the value to him had been great. He just wanted me to be British and communicate fluently in English. All of this is by way of saying I agree with the Prime Minister’s insistence that learning English is an essential requirement of residence and citizenship. And that I disagree with the Interlink Foundation — the strictly Orthodox charity — saying that it is “deeply uncomfortable” with what he has proposed. Interlink runs language courses for the strictly Orthodox community and objects to the link being made between failure to speak English and violent extremism, suggesting that this “stigmatises parts of society in a way that can only increase the feelings of unease and marginalisation of the targeted groups”. I’m afraid this only goes to show that one can always find a reason to object to anything. It is failure to learn or speak English that marginalises target groups. And they won’t feel unease at the Prime Minister’s remarks because they won’t be able to understand what he said, will they?
Excuse me if this sounds flippant. It was meant to sound angry. The failure to teach or communicate in English is a deliberate strategy by those with power in a community to prevent those without it from being able to communicate with the outside world. It leaves these people powerless to make their own choices or to seek help from others. They are left powerless and defenceless. And the idea that they have chosen this path is transparently untrue.
The Prime Minister’s remarks were not aimed at the Jewish community. And there is a reason for that. The isolation of some Jews and the refusal to integrate does not threaten anyone else.
It is vital to remember this. People are entitled to live their own lives and adhere to their traditions and practices as long as they don’t harm anyone else. Strictly Orthodox practices deserve protection and defence insofar as they do that.
Yet I’m afraid the challenge of David Cameron’s speech means the subject can’t be left at that. The insistence that everyone be given the freedom that comes from mastery of the English language and that everybody should be able to seek the protection of British law is undeniably right. And if it is right for all Muslims, then naturally, undeniably, it is right for Jews.
In our own community, we must champion the right of women, in particular, to have equality under the law and the ability to access that law free of reproach. And in English.
Not learning English leaves people feeling defenceless
Daniel Finkelstein is Associate Editor of The Times